She’s fallen for Jed, also of Manila’s hoity-toity crowd. They both see beyond that world and don’t like what they find in the Philippines under dictatorship. They find themselves drawn to forces working to change things through armed revolution.
Sol wants to be part of that rebolusyon, to be like another woman, an activist to whom Jed is emotionally drawn. In fact, that activist is Sol’s “tokayo,” namesake, though they come from different worlds. Solidaridad Soledad, known as Soli, is the daughter of a middle class engineer from Leyte. She is bright and feisty, a natural leader.
Soli “came across … like an ember,” Sol says. “I have always wondered if it were my own need to burn that made her seem, at this remove, incandescent. As I said, her caramel skin had an illusory sheen, as if something fired her from within.”
Sol also seeks that fire. But it’s not easy. She wrestles with doubts, which she shares one day with Jed.
“Don’t you see? We live outside of the country’s rules. We can do whatever we want. We can commit crimes. We can even play at revolution. We could kill people, for all we knew. And then in the end we will always get away. We’re cockroaches. It’s we who are the problem, Jed. Don’t you see?”
“Speak for yourself. I’m no cockroach: I’m going to be part of the solution.”
“No, you’re not. Your fucking family has fucked this country up.”
More books recently have taken on the Philippines under the Marcos dictatorship. Gun Dealers' Daughter is another engaging portrait of that period.
Apostol is a skillful and elegant storyteller, who draws you into this tale of love, betrayal, conspiracy and revolution. Sol describes Uncle Gianni, a close family friend and associate in her family’s weapons business:
“His skin is taut and smelled of citrus, a fading scent of cleanness. You could smell that all over Uncle Gianni: the masculine smell of fastidious men. He was not much tanned but burnished, as if he had just spent days on a soccer field, soaking up Manila’s sun.”
Getting rid of the Marcos dictatorship was a collective effort that involved even those who had it good when the tyrant was in power. But Gun Dealers’ Daughter is a tale with a twist, chronicling an upper class journey that goes awry, that leads from defiance and commitment straight to madness.
That could make the novel a tough, even troubling, read for those who followed the upper-class-Filipino-joins-radical-movement narrative from the years of dictatorship.
In fact, my own encounter with Apostol’s brilliant novel involved a striking counterpoint.
I read Gun Dealers’ Daughter, which came out last year, shortly after the death of Maita Gomez, the feminist activist and one-time cadre of the underground guerrilla movement, who also happened to be a former beauty queen, model and a symbol of Manila’s high society.
Her story exemplifies the journey Apostol explores in Gun Dealers’ Daughter. Sadly, she was turned into a caricature when she died, underscored by the many “Beauty-queen-turned-guerrilla dies” headlines that greeted her passing.
But Gomez’s story was more complex than the news reports. Her stint in the armed radical movement did not end in glorious, liberating revolution, not unlike that of many other upper class Filipinos who ended up breaking ranks with the underground movement disillusioned, disgusted and severely scarred emotionally, physically and psychologically.
But unlike Sol of Gun Dealers’ Daughter, Maita Gomez’s radical interlude didn’t lead to madness. She shifted gears, defining a new path as a social activist, a path far beyond the road defined and dictated by dogmatic armed revolutionaries.
She apparently didn’t like to dwell too much on her radical days. As activist Herbert Docena recalls in a moving tribute, Gomez “seemed especially embarrassed by stories that dwell on how much of a sacrifice it supposedly was for someone like her to give up all the comforts of an upper-class life to join the movement.”
“My guess is that this was not because she belittled her own considerable sacrifices,” he added, “but because she met, lived with, dodged bullets with, marched with—and likely helped bury—so many people who had given up so much more.”
Sounds like another great idea for a novel.